Some like it hot

Stedmen’s Medical Dictionary describes capsaicin as “a colorless irritant phenolic amide C18H27NO3 that is found in various capsicums and that gives hot peppers their hotness .” The dictionary does NOT go on to say that when you’ve got capsaicin in it’s “colorless” state, the crystals are pretty much weapons-grade irritants. It’s the active ingredient in pepper spray, after all.

Peppers are typically measured on the Scoville scale, where you puree the pepper, and then dilute with water until you can’t taste the spice anymore. There are less subjective mechanisms now for generating the numbers, but to give you an example, Tabasco sauce rates around 2500, which means you have to add 2500 parts of water to one part Tabasco before it’s not spicy any longer. That may seem pretty hot, but Police grade pepper spray rates around 2,000,000. Pure capsaicin is up around 5.3 million, and apparently there are a couple of mutations of the molecule like Nordihydrocapsaicin which are even hotter.

Like it matters. When you’re up in the millions, capsaicin is a munition, not a foodstuff.

I love spicy food. I’ve got a bottle of hot sauce that rates between 40,000 and 75,000 Scoville — it’s called “Blair’s Sudden Death Sauce”– and last night I used it on the last of our leftover curried rice.

A word on capsaicin’s effects: if you get enough in your mouth, and it doesn’t take much at all, the pain and heat receptors shut down, but not before giving you a tremendous jolt. You get some endorphins as well. This is why people like extremely spicy food — there’s an endorphin rush associated with tricking your oral cavity into believing that you’ve eaten a live coal. Once you’ve had this experience, there is a gating effect, which means you can fire things up much hotter next time without feeling like you’re going to die.

So… about a week ago I was over at ‘s house, and I spread (yes, SPREAD) some Scoville 60k on a quesadilla already loaded with green chiles.

Last night’s curry was a non-event. I got four drops and a couple of dried-up bottleneck chunks into maybe a cup and a half of curried rice (with walnuts, apples, raisins, and green peppers… yum!) and sat down to watch a movie. I plowed through the rice like there was nothing on it. Sure, I could taste the heat. Yes, I got that endorphin kick. But there was no pain. This means I’ve successfully gated the nerves in my cake hole down several notches, to the point where I can eat Weapons of Mouth Destruction with relative impunity.

The sad thing… nobody else in my home likes spicy foods the way I do. We prepared that curry as mild as could be for the kids, and they STILL complained that it was too spicy. Thus, I’m relegated to doctoring leftovers for my capsaicin fix.

46 thoughts on “Some like it hot”

    1. I didn’t mean that to be condescending, and I realize now how it could come off that way. It’s just that I don’t understand you strange people from the Pepperhead Tribe.

      1. Pain is not a flavor, no. Endorphins are not, either. But the pain yields endorphins, which make me want to come back to the hot food next time.


          1. Ungawah. Do not meddle in the affairs of our tribe, for we are quick to take offense, and you might go nicely with a nice habenero/serrano chutney…

    2. At the Pnom Phen in Cleveland, they always ask how hot you want the food. If you say “mild”, it will burn your tongue out. “Medium” will take half of your thorax along. “Hot” will cause spontaneous combustion.

      It was my favourite food place in cleveburg. I ordered “Medium”, my friends all order “Mild”. Except one, who once ordered “Hot”. His remains are on display in the local goth club.

      I don’t exaggarate much, either …

  1. Fun fact for us science fictiony types:

    Capsaicin is specifically keyed to MAMMALIAN pain receptors.

    Don’t take your pepper spray to Jurassic Park.

    1. Another fun fact:

      Goats seem to be spice nuts as much as Howard and Chalain and the rest of us Pepperheads.

      Horses hate spicy foods.

      There’s a trick to stopping horses from chewing on the wooden fences… That trick is to spread a little Tabasco on the rails where they chew. They won’t chew anymore.

      Well, we thought, what’s good for the horse is good for the goat, so we spread some Tabasco on our gate where the goats were gnawing… The next day, the fence was gnawed straight through. So we called a couple goats up and started feeding them Tabasco straight out of the bottle… They *LOVED* it! They were fighting over who got to drink the Tabasco out of the bottle!

  2. Have you been to lately? Timmy’s Torrid Tonic is a caffeinated hot sauce. Although if you really want hot hot, you have to go to somewhere like and order something from a line like Blair’s Death or Dave’s Insanity. Some of those sauces require you to sign a disclaimer before they’ll let you buy ’em.

    1. I’m actually more of a fan of Blair’s After Death. Good stuff, still though hot foods are great. Curry though is something diffrent, the dry heat doesn’t bother me and I can usually get curry as spicy as the chef will make it at several of the local restaurants and it doesn’t phase me. In fact it usually leaves me wanting more. One of the only peppers though that I can’t take is the Habanero. Great stuff but I still haven’t completely acclimated to it. Reminds me of my friend Fox’s Stir Fry, he usually makes the stuff with about 6 habaneros and a bunch of other peppers ranging from bell to cerrano. Stuff is excellent but it is pure murder on your senses. Got to get him to make some for me and his wife when he visits next from Arizona. ^_^

      1. The habañero is one of the finest peppers out there. It’s not the heat — if it’s too hot, just cut down the number of peppers, or de-seed them before cooking; it’s the flavor. Jalapeño peppers don’t have a lot of flavor, and what flavor si there is mostly bitter and (frankly) pretty unpleasant, but habañeros (and the almost identical Scotch Bonnet) have a wonderful fruity flavor that puts just about everything else to shame.

        McIlhenny’s makes a very good habañero Tabasco now (and don’t miss their smoked chipotle Tabasco, either), but my recommendation for a habañero sauce would be something like Melinda’s or Yucatan Sunshine.

        If anyone’s interested, I have a Malayan red curry recipe that originally specified Thai chilies, but is truly excellent made with habañeros.

        1. I don’t care one way or another about the flavor of the peppers. I want the pain, plus a nice food flavor with at least a little sweet in it — General Tso’s Chicken is a good example. Take a toothpick, dip it in your extract hot-sauce (something between 60,000 and 300,000 Scoville), and innoculate each of the Tso Chicken chunks. You now have one of my favorite dishes, “God Emperor Tso’s Chicken.”


          1. I don’t care one way or another about the flavor of the peppers. I want the pain, plus a nice food flavor with at least a little sweet in it

            Now that’s what I don’t understand. If it isn’t about the flavour then why add peppers at all? Just add the capsaicin and be done with it.

            I can’t stand the heat of ‘s Malayan Red Curry when he makes it with habañeros so I doctor mine with sour cream to cut the heat but it is much better with the habañeros instead of the Thai chilis. And I really want to try Alton Brown’s pineapple-habañero dessert sauce one of these days.

          2. Because pepper sauces are cheaper than straight capsaicin, and easier to manipulate safely. Adding a drop of something to your meal is simpler than adding three grains of crystalline substance with tweezers.

            Also, you want the capsaicin to be spread fairly evenly through the food. Creating curried rice with capsaicin crystals would require dissolving the right amount of the stuff in water, and then cooking the rice in that water. You have to doctor the whole batch, and you can’t add more later without blowing up the kitchen.


        2. Mmmm – Malayan red curry goodness. Habañeros are definately one of the finest peppers around.

          As for an actual hot sauce – I still have to recommend Dave’s Insanity – any of them (especially the Ultimate). Based on red pepper extract, and a mighty fine job.

  3. I have the same problem. My wife can’t handle anything even mildly spicy, so I have to doctor afterwards. It’s not the hot is a flavor, it’s just that I can’t taste much that isn’t hot. She wants me to taste the subtle differences in the four cheeses she used in a quiche(sp?). I look for chili paste so it doesn’t feel like I’m eating soggy cardboard.

  4. There’s still hope for the kids. When I was little, I couldn’t stand anything spicier than ketchup or anything more exotic than tacos. Now that I’m older and my tastebuds are more mature, while I’m still not up to much of anything measured on the Scoville scale, Indian and Thai are my favorite food groups.

  5. Hot cooking

    So, you missed out on our recent PLUG (Provo Linux Users Group) Presentation, where a local geek/trained chef did a pepper steak and fajita demonstration that was amazing. The smell when things hit the grill was incredible.

    However, all is not lost, because the local BYU-Unix Users Group requested a similar presentation, which will be done on the 18th.

    Anybody around is welcome to come, and Joe really knows his peppers well, and they will certainly be making an appearance.

  6. If you ever get out to Bay Area (specifically San Mateo, Calif.), be sure to stop into the Prince of Wales Pub and order the habanero burger. They make a big burger, then cover the top of the patty with a layer of pureed habaneros – somewhere between an eighth and a quarter of an inch thick.

      1. No, but they give you a free bumper sticker with every burger proclaiming that you survived. And it’s tasty, too. Also, if you show up during the spring and order the extra special version with the really hot ones, you get you name put up on the “Wall of Flame”. Seems they have a line on the production from a local farmer that grows the hottest variant of the habanero, but it’s only available for a short time.

        1. So, will they actually serve burgers rare, or did they cave to the nanny state?

          If they serve ’em rare, I may have to find my way there if I’m ever in CA.

  7. One other IMPORTANT POINT: some foods seem to accelerate or catalyze the bonding of capsaicin to pain receptors. Others mitigate the effect. I prefer foods that mitigate it, because I can pile more of the food into my mouth, and keep tasting it.

    Examples of accelerants: anything acidic, or with tomatos. Also, straight water, which will take unbonded capsaicin and wash it right onto the receptors it just washed clean. Water only works with SLIGHTLY spicy stuff.
    Examples of mitigants: anything with sugar. Simple carbs and starches (bread and tortillas, for instance) also work, but not as well.

    If you REALLY want to cut the heat after you’ve put something spicy in your mouth, mix up some 50/50 sugar-water. One part sugar, one part water. Don’t guzzle it. Just swish a tablespoon or so around in your mouth. It really is a glorious feeling — all that pain, and now a patch of relief, and SUGAR! Man, my brain goes all jiggly just THINKING about it.

    This is why General Tso’s Chicken is so nice. You can chomp those dried peppers, and then gobble some of the sweet sauce. It’s like the cold plunge in those fancy spas, where you get way too hot in the sauna, and then jump into icewater. Whee!


    1. Sugar water sprays were how they developed the Scoville scale. The poor human test subjects were fed ground peppers, and the number of sprays of sugar water to stop the heat. Therefore, a 45 to 60 thousand scoville pepper meant the unlucky bastard had to spray it that many times in the mouth to stop the insanity.

      Course if you feel the need to be a quitter, pour some milk in your mouth, slosh it around and spit it out. Milk releases capsaicin’s death grip on your receptors.

      For where I got my info:

  8. There was an incident at my University once, someone in the Biochem dept was using pure capsicum for some reason.
    Anyway, there was spill of the pure powdered stuff, which evacuated the labs at high speed. They had to send in people in Haz Mat suits to clean up…

    however Dave, my room mate, managed to nick some to use in his cooking…
    He’d add a spatulium full of it to a pan, that about equal to what you get one the wrong end of a teaspoon. [about 1.5g]
    But then he grew up in mylasia, and was f**king insane!

    I like the idea of munitions grade hot sauce being used to make weapons of mouth destruction… sounds like something that Shlock would like!


    The mildest capsaicinoid was nordihydrocapsaicin (NDHC), which was described as the “least irritating” and “fruity, sweet, and spicy.” Next was homodihydrocapsaicin (HDHC), a compound described as “very irritating,” and one that produced a “numbing burn” in the throat, which also was the most prolonged and difficult to rinse out.

  10. If you’re ever in the Seattle area, there’s this place around Bellevue called Dixie’s. Go in, order either a BBQ dinner if you’re really hungry or order a BBQ sandiwch. Get lemon cake. That’s important. Anyway, once the intimidating woman has given you your food, go put it at a table, then hunt down the man called Jean. Ask people there for help, they’ll be glad to give it. Once you’ve found Jean, ask for some of The Man.

    The first time I had it, I had a very small amount. By the time I was done, my entire face was burning up, including my teeth themselves. It was so damn good. It’s up to you how much you have him put on, though. And if you’re pleased, you can buy a small jar of it for like $15 or so.

    Warning, though: Dixie’s is pretty hard to find. It’s practically under a bridge, but God is it worth it.

    1. “Gene”, but yes. He’s hilarious. He speaks James Brown-style English and will come around and intimidate you into trying the demonic hot sauce.

      Other things really good there include the cornbread and the sweet potato pie.

  11. Blair’s series of hot sauces are all awesome.

    We’ve just had an oyster party, and I’ll tell ya that an oyster in a shotglass, covered in tequila and with a drop of Blair’s After Death is good.

    Hot as all hell, but really, really good.

  12. Here in Fremont (south SF Bay Area), there’s a restaurant called “Mama and Family’s Jamaican Barbeque.” You get your choice of meat (beef, chicken, sausage), a scoop of potato salad, and your choice of drink, usually beer or soda. The meat is marinated in some kind of habanero sauce — the sausage *really* holds the heat — gods, this stuff is good. I think habaneros have a bright taste, like sunshine, unlike some others which are a little duller, to my taste.

  13. Yeah, I’m definately with you on the spicyness. I’m of the opinion that if it doesn’t make your eyes water, it’s not hot enough.

    Unfortunately, in Australia, the Chinese have a lock on all the good spicy food. And they’re afraid to serve someone as white looking as me their mega-spicy stuff, no matter how much I beg and plead that they do so.

    Back when I was in high school, one of my good friends was this Malay Chinese guy. His mother was determined to get me used to their level of spice because “Australian food is so boring!”. Only trouble is, now I’m out of contact with him I don’t know where the hell I can fix me up with some hardcore spicyness.

  14. I always thought that pure capsaicin was 16,000,000 Scoville, not 5.3M.

    Ages back I was linked over to a webpage from Fark or Slashdot that talked about some uber-mega-hot spices the guy made, and packaged in attractive “heat pyramids” – 2M on the bottom in a bigger bottle, then up in three layers to 7M or so. I’ll see if I can’t find it again.

  15. A few years back, I ate about a teaspoonful of “Dave’s Insanity Sauce” on a chip. I thought I was going to die. For then next year or so (I ain’t kidding) I could eat pretty much any hot thing I wanted with impunity. Well, it wore off quite a while ago. I think I need to dose myself again.

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